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Sex offenders register not a ‘silver bullet’

Focus on rehabilitation: Martha Dismont of Family Centre

Child protection experts warned yesterday that a register of sex offenders was not “a silver bullet” and that the public should still guard against the risk of abuse.

Jon Brunson, chairman of child abuse prevention charity Scars, highlighted that about 88 per cent of sexual abuse cases go unreported and Martha Dismont, executive director of Family Centre, said the community should not have a false sense of security because they knew where an offender lived.

The two were speaking after the publication of a House of Assembly Joint Select Committee report which recommended the creation of a sex offenders register.

But Mr Brunson said: “It’s not the silver bullet — the fact that we are calling for the list doesn’t mean that our children are safe.

“It only tells us the names of those convicted of a crime.

“Some 90 per cent of the perpetrators are already known to their victims and about 88 per cent of the crime goes unreported, so we must remain vigilant.”

Ms Dismont added: “We also must be careful as registries can create a false sense of security.

“Parents feel they know where sex offenders are — they focus on keeping their children away from those areas.

“However, children are most likely to be sexually assaulted or molested by someone they know, such as a parent, immediate family member or family friend.”

Both Mr Brunson and Ms Dismont also warned that members of the public should not attack or isolate those they know to be on the list because that could increase the risk of reoffending.

Ms Dismont said: “Treating individuals on this list as isolated criminals who must be separated from society, as opposed to people with a problem who require ongoing treatment and support will be very dangerous.

“Individuals on this list will experience discrimination, anger and isolation from the communities in which they live. They struggle to find jobs and move beyond the crime they committed.

She added: “At worst, this will leave these individuals more likely to reoffend as opposed to less likely, making the community more unsafe.

“We must develop systems in Bermuda that focus on rehabilitation and treatment of offenders as this will be more effective in reducing repeated offences. We will not always be able to send offenders abroad for treatment.”

Mr Brunson said: “If you assault them then you have committed a crime also. I would caution people how they respond. I understand the emotion behind it but they may have to answer the consequences of their actions.

“As part of our training, we say it is important to react responsibly.”

He added that despite a common belief that paedophiles cannot be cured, rehabilitation should remain a primary focus.

“We feel that in order to tackle this issue holistically rehabilitation has to be part of the conversation. Will it be 100 per cent successful? No, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to try to rehabilitate child sex offenders.”